Have you read the amazing, prescient, dense book by Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine? In it she argues that policies that would never be passed during times of calm are often implemented right after natural disasters, wars, or massive economic upheaval.
The author gives abundant details of how unwanted changes can be pushed through fin the immediate aftermath of crises--from the privatization of New Orleans' public schools after Hurricane Katrina to the seizure of wrecked fishing villages by resort developers after the Asian tsunami. She surveys privatization in Chile under Pinochet, post-apartheid South Africa, post-Solidarity Poland, Russia under Yeltsin, China after the Tiananmen Square protests, reconstruction of Iraq after the U.S. invasion, and Israel after 9/11.
Whether the crises are real or invented, plotting leaders use these moments of chaos to their advantage. They adopt programs that would never be democratically accepted by the people. Military coups, violence and force, wars, induced hyperinflation, terrorism, preemptive war, climate disasters all have been cards played by rulers in order for drastic economic policies to be imposed. Nearly always, they are developed in secrecy and implemented too rapidly for citizens to respond.
The result of these non-democratic interventions is vastly increased inequality. Those with wealth and power benefit from the transformations as their corporations reap the assets. It is those at the bottom and in the middle who are asked to forfeit their freedoms and their livelihoods.
As one reviewer said, "This is the new New Economy: the looting of the public sector through the now tried-and-true methods of disaster capitalism." It is through the policies established in the wake of crises that federal money and authority gets handed to private corporations such as Halliburton and Blackwater, and individual rights and freedoms get muffled and shunted aside.
* * *
Where are we now, with investment banks lying dead around all the empty foreclosed homes and shuttered small businesses?
On the one hand, the motivations of disaster capitalists to move toward a world of uber-capitalism seem to have failed--and failed dramatically. We've seen how dangerous privitization can be in the face of extreme deregulation and lack of oversight.
On the other hand, we are at a moment that much of America is in shock by the loss of their homes, their retirements, their children's college funds, their jobs, and their health care plans--their inability to pay their credit card debt and their student loans--as well as the shock they experience every time they buy groceries or gas. Congress is told that we may be a couple of days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system. Democratic senators Schumer and Dodd suggested that what Secretary Paulson told them was too frightening to repeat, what sounds far worse than the Great Depression. Executives suggest that the crisis will lead to "riots in the streets" or a bloodbath, that it is "a beast of biblical proportions." Newspaper reports suggest that we were 500 trades away from Armageddon. Bloggers suggest this is a fiscal Katrina. The international press is suggesting that the United States itself might default.
Is this not a shock itself?
Could this shock allow the "quick and clean" bill the Paulson wants to pass immediately without discussion?
(Just a thought for some budding politician: oppose this bill now because it may be the next Iraq, and a statement against it could set you up as the next Obama. UPDATE: Someone agrees with me!)
Perhaps the bail-out plan is the only way to answer this crisis. I am no economist.
But every little bit of me resists when those in power tell us to turn off our critical thinking and stop questioning things. They know what is right, they say. They'll take care of us. Don't worry. Be happy. (The fundamentals are strong, right?)
Well, I am worried.
I'm concerned that even relatively conservative commentators are suggesting that capitalism is changed forever. I don't feel comfortable that the industry could control the markets to allow people to bet only that things are going up and not manage their risk with shorts. I feel uneasy that individual Americans, people already struggling to pay their bills and help other suffering people in their communities, are being asked to bail out millionaire corporations. I am disturbed that we are being asked to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the already-enormous national debt.
Maybe this plan is the right answer. I have no idea.
But I know it is wrong to be shocked into doing something without thinking, to be told by our leaders that the truth is too scary for us to hear, to have it suggested that we should contemplate what supports monster corporations rather than what is good for all Americans--including the poor.